Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Post Planning Postulations.

There's only one party planned for today and I've completed the school supplies list for my 2nd grader, so I'm now in a reflective mood - reviewing my planning glitches.

**WARNING**, I can get incredibly duller when in reflective mode - read on only if you have a strong will and a chemical stimulant...

In the nearly 2 years I've been the primary parent, the stay at home Dad or family organizer, I've tried lots of methods to try to plan better.  Clearly none have been perfect.

My first attempt at a planning system was based on me being straight out of the workplace.  I used a Google calendar which I shared with Lynn so she'd know what was going on too.  Unfortunately, Lynn was totally new to an ordinary workplace and so she never looked at it and I didn't much either, as I was generally out and about setting up home in LA - we arrived with only 8 suitcases, so there was much to do.

Next, I decided to go retro and try to use a diary - the Institution of Engineers and Technology sends me a lovely one every year.  Predictably, I lost this.

Third time lucky, I tried the huge wall-planner.  It worked best.  I'm generally home and Lynn generally asks me what's going on when I'm home.  The only slight technical difficulty was that, the moment I left the house I didn't have a clue what was going on.  Also, the aesthetic value of the huge wall planner was minimal - to the point that it was always in danger of being moved to somewhere less obvious and therefore less useful.

So at the moment, recurring appointments get entered into my blackberry and parties, visitors and meetings with Immigration Attorneys go on the huge wall planner.

Eureka!!!  That's it, I've suddenly hit on the problem.  We moved house and the huge wall planner is no longer in the kitchen.  Hmm.  Either I need a smaller wall planner or a bigger kitchen.  Cost Benefit Analysis suggests smaller wall planner, however Feasibility Analysis suggests that a bigger kitchen would be more acceptable to significant stakeholders.  I wonder which will win?  I predict a bigger kitchen and the wall planner stays put.

Someday, no doubt, we'll all have built in screens in the palms of our hands and tiny living computers fused into our very being - but we'll still have to choose where to focus our attention at any one point.    

You see that's where the problem really lies, it's not that the information can't be made available.  It's that when I'm focusing on the something important and immediate, or something immediate and interesting, I don't always notice...well, anything else at all.  Like the time I focused on taking my 7 yr old on the Metro to see Olvera Street on his day off and totally failed to remember that it was also a half day at preschool.  Ever been 2 hours late for picking up your child?  Not my finest moment.

So the planning mistakes are just a symptom of my time management issues needing resolved.  If only I could remember the name of that library book I once read, something about managing your time so that you gets others to do all the work whilst you can put your feet up and lounge around.

I do so love a good bit of reflecting. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Poor Planning Prevails.

I'm on a roll now.  About a month or so ago, my 3 yr old received via my email some party evites.  Two of his pre-school class mates were turning 3 and having parties on the same day.  The thought of two parties in one day made me just a little scared, or so I thought.

Later we discovered it's also birthday time for one of our new friends in LA.  Her plan was cocktails on Friday, which we couldn't make, so Lynn organized that we'll all go off somewhere interesting on the Sunday.  As Sunday gets closer, I'm mentioning the parties to Lynn and we realize that we're now double-booked.  We felt bad, but the 3 yr old wins the day and we postpone our friend.

Sunday comes.  9am: I re-examine the evite to find the precise address of the first party.  Address is fine, but the party was yesterday!!  Oops, so I check the details on the other party.... also yesterday!

Lynn wrote the apology emails and I haven't looked to see what she called me - I don't think reading them would help my 'self image'.  Have you noticed how LA is seeping into psyche?  I did get one of the replies though, which said not to worry - she'd arrived a week too early to parties before.

At this point, I have 2 obvious options.

Option 1: Start saving for therapy for me and my boys.
Option 2: Move back to the UK and disguise any past 'difficulties' with bad weather and good beer.

Preliminary analysis of these options is not good. Option 1 requires a level of planning and forethought - an area where I have proved myself to be lacking.  Option 2 has already been attempted for 21 years and didn't prove to be a suitable long term solution.  [Note: In the UK aged 16 you can drink wine or beer with a meal in restaurants, so I'm not really as old as you might think...ahem.]

School starts on Thursday, so it's only going to get worse.  I've already added to my calendar, 'School Spirit' days, vacation t-shirt day, 'Green and Gold' day, a coffee morning and something called 'Trunk or Treat'.

Anyone want to bet how many times my kids will miss an event or are wrongly dressed this school year?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance.

I was jealous today.  Jealous of my wife!  She gets to hide herself away and write.  You see she can do it legitimately, it's her job / profession.  My job is to look after the boys and keep the house running smooth.  It's a great arrangement mostly... but you can get too much of a good thing.  3 months of school holiday is taking it's toll.

You see the issue with my job is much the same as with any business.  There's that common saying in business, "If you stay still, you die."  It's true of parenting too.  The best days are invariably where you took the initiative and planned an activity in advance - something achievable, rewarding and fun.  I didn't do that today and so I paid the price.  The price is bored kids and the inability to organize a single thought in your head because there's a bored child shouting, pulling at you or trying to use the refrigerator shelves as a ladder.

If you add to the mild nightmare of an unprepared day, a distinct lack of sleep and a very minor household stocking issue, you start to find yourself thinking maybe a job wouldn't be such a bad idea.  We were out of dishwasher tablet things.  Not a huge oversight, but a very visible one as the dirty dishes started to stack up.  

So when Lynn took a break from writing, I sneaked out alone to our local supermarket.  I was just standing, staring at where the dishwasher tablet things should be, thinking I must be going mad cause they don't have any either, when this older lady loudly laughed at me.  Whilst steering her cart past me she chortled, "Can't you choose sweety?"  Now that might be funny, really it might.  However, it felt pretty sexist to me and she was lucky that I spend my days looking after my boys and have almost completely lost the art of the quick, incisive retort.

I supposed that I shouldn't be troubling my pretty little head with the tricky choices of modern house management.  I should get myself back into the kitchen, like a proper little hubby.  So I got the tablet things elsewhere and went home and made home-made pizza.... which I burnt.

Perhaps I'm paying for every sexist joke that I might have ever sniggered at - I'm clearly a no-good male chauvinist pig.

Firemen are hot, apparently.

Here in the San Fernando Valley it's hot.  It's not like we didn't expect it to be this hot, just this year the heat's come late.  In fact the weather has been gloriously comfortable and cheaper to run than last year.  I doubt we've even used the air conditioning, except for when we've guests.  

Our numerous guests have been ok with the weather, but we have them stay in a room above the garage...heat rises and loves to hang around our pals!  At one point, our nephew's girlfriend nearly passed out whilst using the hair dryer.  So I relented and showed them where the thermostat is!  I know, I sound cheap.  I kind of am though, when it comes to unnecessary waste.  Our visitors are nearly always from the UK - when you leave a UK house you turn the thermostat down to reduce the heating bills...   It's not their fault, it's just habit... and our bills.  See I'm cheap!

Wednesday was even hotter for some.  A friend of ours organized a private tour round Fire Station 41 as "a treat for our boys" so she said.  However, she and Lynn seemed more interested in the calendar shoot potential of the firemen.  Our boys loved it, we even got driven round the block in the Fire Truck.  Both boys were smiling from their eyes... so were the ladies!  I can't say much more as it's really difficult to avoid double entendres, but Lynn did say she'd seen a bigger hose...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

No more lessons.

We've decided to postpone the swimming lessons.  I think we just need to wait till he can be reasoned with...or more easily bribed. 

The current plan is that when he's potty trained we can start swimming lessons again... Oh yes, there's potty training to start soon!  I shudder to think how that's going to go.  I wonder if the same techniques used on puppies might be appropriate...I could get one of those spray bottles! ;-)

At the moment, he's almost an immovable object when it comes to what he wants.  I don't think I'll ever be able to forget this latest holiday - he was adamant that he wouldn't go for dinner.... so he lay down on the most crowded piece of sidewalk in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco and screamed uncontrollably about how he wasn't going for dinner and how he wanted to see the boats.  By the time the tantrum was finished, he was a brown color from the dirty pavement and his face looked like a grubby beet-root.  

Meanwhile our 7 yr old has discovered joke books.  So just as a tantrum teeters on the brink of explosion, we get "Why do chickens watch Television?   For Hen-tertainment.  GET IT?!" 

If only the boys were back at school and pre-school, then I could be back doing my normal activities like home DIY projects, ensuring homework is done on time and frantically checking calendars for PJ day and crazy hat day..... 

Ocht, maybe I just need to try and chill a bit.  The Rolling Stones weren't built in a day, and Rome doesn't gather any moss, and other such pearls of wisdom, etc.  

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Road Trip of Discovery.

Vacations are almost never what you plan.  Every time you travel, you learn something new about the World - whether you want to or not!  We've just returned from a little road trip and frankly it was all a little too educational for me...

Here's what we did:

Tuesday:  Drove up the 101 to Monterey, stayed in cheap motel.
Wednesday:  Went to the fantastic Monterey Aquarium in the morning and drove to Big Sur in the afternoon.
Thursday: Drove to San Jose, went to the very odd Winchester Mystery House, got lost and had lunch in Redwood City, drove to Fisherman's Wharf San Francisco.
Friday: Had fun in the morning, picnic in the Golden Gate park and then drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the hills.
Saturday: Drove back thinking we'd stop by Yosemite, but just kept on going and came home.

Here's what I learned:

  1. Choices are a disaster for us. Trying to choose a destination or a restaurant whilst being heckled by a 3 yr old and ignored by a 7 yr old is sometimes more challenging than any nuclear proliferation peace talks.
  2. Drivers in San Francisco are more aggressive than those in LA. I would never have predicted this, I'm not saying that the driving abilities are any different, just the aggression levels - pure testosterone runs in some of those SF drivers' veins... though sometimes I'm sure there's pure THC running in some LA drivers' veins.
  3. Weather has become really tricky for us.  We're still stuck with the UK mentality, that when we go on holiday the weather should improve.  San Francisco reminded me of Glasgow, with it's grey gloominess...
  4.  WE"VE GONE SOFT!!!! 
But the biggest lesson was that we call our little piece of the San Fernando Valley, "Home". 

When we got home the boys relaxed, we relaxed and, other than to restock the fridge, we'll not be leaving home today at all.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Reasons to be cheerful...

Sometimes I might moan a bit. Sometimes I might sound a little...grumpy. Really though I'm just "struggling to show my enthusiasm." So if you'd just eaten some lovely prawns and scallops and then there was a power cut and you found yourself in the bathroom with only an emergency light-stick for enlightenment...

Friday, August 13, 2010

Poached Eggs.

Some things stay the distance.  For me, culinary speaking, that's pancakes, pesto and poached eggs.  Though maybe that's just my favorites that begin with 'p'.  

Pancakes were the most challenging recipe that I was able to do when I left home.  They've moved from the crepes that I used to try to tempt girls back to my room with.... (twenty years ago!) to the the more IHOP-like examples that I feed to my boys now.

Pesto was a revelation introduced to me when I moved to England.  Then I looked on the side of a jar and thought, 'How difficult could it be..'  Not very difficult at all as it turns out and so this has been a keeper... again as the ability to cook something from scratch seems to work wonders when a lady is in need of impressing.

For quite a while I travelled throughout the UK with my work.  Staying in hotels is tedious and eating in hotels often dubious.   So I only ever ate the breakfasts... and although the Full English cooked breakfast can be truly magnificent... you couldn't do it every day - well I couldn't!  I started ordering poached eggs as a way of making the more scuzzy places make me something bordering on fresh.  Once you realize how easy it is to make a good poached egg and how badly an exhausted hotel chef can ruin one, it's not long before you make your own.  This has become my wife's favorite and so if I know what's good for me... I pretty much do as she says!

So here's the rub.  We're applying for Green Cards which seems innocent enough...  But my dear wife wants me to get a job! I know!  Once you apply for the Green Card you get a temporary work permit a few months after.... so I don't have much time!

Here's been my plan so far.  Up my game in the kitchen to the point that she relents and suggests that the best place for me is at home.  I've tried pasta peperonata, mushroom risotto, a minty pea pappardelle, salmon wrapped in parma ham and served with herby lentils, etc.  It's still not worked!  I need some more interesting 'keepers' - and by keepers I mean some recipes or meals that are so fantastic that they'll keep me out of that old wage-slave routine.

They must be reasonably healthy too, as if Lynn gains any weight from this plan I might find myself dropped off outside the Home Depot...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Prince.

My eldest is a prince among men.  I know, that sounds like the rubbish that parents all over the World spout out all too often.  Our guy is different though and today he showed some of his princeliness.

The swimming lesson today was easy.  Our monster didn't want to go at all, but his big brother did so he tagged along.  The shorter, grumpier one even allowed me to get him dressed in his swimming stuff - not that he wanted to go swimming just he wanted to copy his brother.  All the way to the school, I listened to how he didn't want to go swimming.  When we got there Monica was fantastic and spontaneously put the princely-one to work as a play-mate and mentor to the little monster.  Within 2 minutes there were giggles coming from that pool....  The monster even said 'Thank You' at the end of the lesson!  Monica's hoping the prince will become a regular accomplice in the fight against swimming ignorance.

Our boys are usually great together, sometimes they are a bit boisterous, but mostly they get along due the patience of the older prince and the wicked humor of the young monster.  I used some of the monster's birthday cash to get him a Buzz Lightyear scooter and now the two of them are like some kind of sweet version of a 50's biker gang.  Every night they cuddle and the prince reads reads a bed time story to his adoring, if a little controlling, brother.

I think I need to watch some sports, drink beer and listen to punk rock... I'm becoming soft and slushy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Damper & Shorter.

First swim lesson with Monica was tricky.  Would you expect anything else?  The little man was adamant that he didn't want to go swimming.  So I had to carry his 38lb bulk into the school, whilst trying to convince him that we were just going to meet Monica and play with toys.  He was short on trust.

Once at the pool-side he was not happy with the setup at all.  It was all looking like I was going to relive yesterday's tantrum in Target - they viciously position $129 talking Buzz Lightyears at toddler height.... need I saw anymore?

Monica persuaded me to sit on the side and dip my feet in... more damp shorts!  Eventually, he put his feet in too, started playing and then Monica even coaxed him to practice kicking.  On exiting the pool I think he was actually quite cocky.

Perhaps there's still a glimmer of hope we'll release his inner Sea Monster!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Third time lucky?

We had a lovely weekend which included a play date for the boys, going on a hike, fixing the sprinkler system, painting deck chairs, smashing down a garden wall and Lynn getting stung by a drowning wasp.  

Too much to cover in any blog with the word 'short' in the title, but I do want to mention our hike.  We thought we'd like to see the ducks and turtles in the lake at Franklin Canyon and stumbled on a wedding party that included some people Lynn works with.  I was asked to stand in for the rabbi who was running late... I guess this is quite normal for a hike in LA?!  Obviously being asked to stand in for a late rabbi is normal everywhere, but we don't know that many people here so it was really quite unusual to randomly meet someone we know. 

Today was the last swim lesson with Philip.  Our monster from the deep clearly has developed an aversion to the lovely Philip.  Whilst the lesson was... er, 'happening' (not sure that's the right word!)...the  screams were so loud that the swim school owner came out of his office to see what was going on.  He recommended that we try another instructor and so I booked Monica for the remainder of the week.  

When the lesson time finished, Philip suggested that I try someone else and looked relieved that I'd already set it up!  I also made sure to tell Philip's boss how successful he'd been with my older son as it's not really a failure as such when two people don't work well together... particularly when a 3 year old is involved.

The first instructor only managed to get the little guy to put his feet in the water, so Monica will be his third at this swim school.  Three's a good and lucky number.... I hope.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday feels like Tuesday.

So here's my method for writing a blog.  First, set up some kind of activity with the most feisty child you have.  Second, whilst that child naps in the afternoon go for a swim to calm down and think through the day.  Third, quickly type it up as fast as you can as any minute now he's going to wake up....

So far so good, or probably so far so mediocre!  My point is that we all find our coping strategies and mechanisms to get through it all.  And then there's some days that just exist to remind you that you're not that clever... and no matter how much you try, coping is the best you can manage.

1. This morning my lovely boys awoke just before 6am.  Why?  I don't know.
2. My laptop has decided to become more like a PC than a Mac, i.e. temperamental.  Apparently the hard disk needs repaired.
3. I noticed that one of the sprinklers was leaking at the valve, I'd 'fixed' it before just by tightening it and it seemed loose again....  Why I didn't predict what came next I don't know!  Damp shorts again, in fact pretty much damp everything.

The little guy's swimming lesson was just before his nap was due.  That didn't help his mood. The nice girl in the swim school office could hear his screams today and chuckled as I booked him in for next week.  I even tried to record the screams to post later, but my Blackberry crashed with the sensory onslaught - not joking!

I'm now off to a hardware store to buy a rather specific 1" bit of plastic tubing adapter, I'll bet I have to but four different types to be sure I get the right one.

There's no day camps next week, I'm going to have both my boys to entertain and keep safe.  So should be fun....

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Time trials.

Before becoming the stay-at-home Dad, I would have never believed that so much of the job was about timing.  Here's my timeline for this morning:

06:50 - Alarm sounds, I hit snooze but immediately there's the call of 'DAD!!!'
07:00 - Now both boys are up and Mrs T has a cup of tea.
Somehow time disappears in a flurry of cereal and clothes....
08:57 - Leave the house with both boys.
09:03 - I drop off my eldest at his day camp - sunscreen applied in parking lot and backpack thrust at him with snack, drink, and ice cream cash.
09:11 - Arrive at Ralphs, almost dragging the little guy round, picking up washing machine detergent, furniture polish and Ajax.
09:17 - Arrive home, pop my head round the door and hand the cleaning stuff to our cleaner / housekeeper - I had a week to get this stuff but somehow never had the time.
09:23 - Arrive at swim school.
09:24 - Instructor says he thinks that the lesson is at 11:00.  I check my Blackberry calendar, he's right.  ARRRGH!
I end up going to a store and getting some cheap shorts for the little guy - he's been growing again.
10:50 - Back at swim class...

Swimming was a success I think.  He got dunked under twice and didn't seem to scream too much.  Philip finished up the lesson wheezing, "If you let go of my throat, you can get out of the water.."  I think it might be the beginnings of a breakthrough!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A methodology for madness.

So I figured this year I must get my boys swimming.  

I take my kids to this great swimming school.  It is truly fabulous or as they say here, awesome.  They do one-on-one teaching, the lessons are a very focused 20 minutes... and they charge over a dollar a minute! So I waited till the schools broke up for summer and started with my 7 year old.  He had one lesson every weekday for 4 weeks and now he swims confidently.  He'll jump in the pool at a moments notice, he does underwater cartwheels and he has survived a July 4th pool party without a life preserver.  Job done.

I had expected that the younger guy would be more tricky as he won't wear a life preserver and is fully prepared to fight to the death to preserve his right to avoid all forms of safety device.  I hadn't quite expected the true level of difficulty though.  His swimming lessons are proving to be the most expensive foot spa sessions outside of Beverly Hills.  Especially today - I've nothing to report as there were no screams, no tantrums, just splashing and playing with toys.  Philip is trying to get him to hum as a way of ensuring his mouth is shut when he gets dunked under the water.  Telling my boy to close his mouth does not have the desired effect, he only needs to be dunked once to learn a new response.  Tell him to close his mouth in a swimming pool and he'll scream in a way that you're certain he's swearing at you, whilst he squeezes your throat in a deadly arm lock... Hummmmm! Hummmmmm! Hummmmmm!

I'm giving it till Friday to decide whether this will continue next week... if not I'm buying membership of the LA Zoo - he can learn by watching the seals!  My little guy loves all wildlife, especially if it hasn't realized the threatening look he's giving....

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Damp Shirt Tuesday.

No temper tantrums at swimming today.   In fact no swimming either.  My littlest thug had a wee touch of the nerves and never ventured beyond sitting on the steps.  He played with the toys for a bit, but got nervous.  Maybe it was the pressure of all those parents watching and waiting for another screaming and kicking show of strength, all of them wondering if a child could ever get more red with anger than the tomato color he achieved yesterday.

When he would no longer even sit on the step, I crouched by the pool, playing with the toys trying to tempt him back in.  Meanwhile he ran behind me and attempted to squeeze all the water from his swim diaper down my back.  Damp shirt Tuesday!

We have a new plan for tomorrow...  Philip, his instructor, will just grab him from the start and I'll hide.  With no one to save him, there'll be no choice but to swim... well that's the theory!

I've briefed Philip on my 3 year old's ability to fell grown adults with a single blow...  As usual no one believes that such a cute little guy could be so adept at unarmed combat, but they all come around eventually...

I'm considering taking an old dictaphone with me to capture the screams... most likely from Philip!

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Inspiration of Damp Shorts.

Today could be described as a bad day, but it got me off my bum to start this blog... so it's probably a terrible day!

My youngest son had the mother of all tantrums at his swimming lesson.  He's only 3, but now even he knows that he struggles with his temper!

I 'enjoyed' all of the essential elements of the tantrum.  Obviously, the screaming son is essential but just as essential are the disapproving looks from other parents, the looks of pity from others, the 'trying to be helpful' staff and the indignity of hugging my very wet and shouting toddler as a method of restraint - which of course led to the damp shorts!  I think every parent in this position feels pretty much the same, just as a Dad I think there's more interest from the surrounding Moms in how a Dad copes...or as they seem to wish... not cope!

My plan to conquer this challenge is to document it.  If I document it then perhaps I can give it some perspective in my tiny brain.  You see the biggest challenge is not 'losing it' yourself.  No one needs to witness my tantrums, especially my sons.

Straight after the tantrum, I managed to persuade a very quiet, 'sorry' from the little guy and then I signed him up for a lesson every day this week.  I wasn't punishing him... honest.  I think I might have been punishing me.... we'll see!